Tree quality development in a Central Appalachian forest after a series of prescribed fires and shelterwood operations

by

Jan Wiedenbeck, Tom Schuler, John Brown, Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy

USDA FS, NRS-01; 304-431-2708

Abstract – Wounding that may occur owing to prescribed fires and forest harvest operations creates concerns about the future health, grade, volume, and value recovery potential of affected trees. The wounds, regardless of origin, may compartmentalize and heal over. Alternatively, they may be slower to “heal” or too significantly injured to defend against pathogens that invade the wound zone and promote decay formation and spread. Even tree species that are known to be good at compartmentalization post-wounding can succumb when a series of wounding events occur. This often is the scenario that we create when conducting prescribed fires in conjunction with thinning and regeneration operations. A combination prescribed fire - shelterwood treatment study to evaluate oak regeneration and establishment in a mesic mixed-oak forest was established in 2000 in West Virginia. Before and after each of two prescribed fires intended to eliminate a shade-tolerant understory, a shelterwood harvest to open the canopy to promote oak regeneration, and a subsequent prescribed fire designed to further cull less fire tolerant non-oak species, tree quality conditions for all 5-inch dbh and larger stems were evaluated. The initiation and development of wounds and broken tops was tracked and correlated with silvicultural activities and weather events. The cumulative and interaction effects of repeated mechanical stressors on these stems is a significant factor in long-term research that seeks to determine the costs and benefits of prescribed fire treatments to promote oak regeneration.